WTLC had the opportunity to attend the Turner-CBS NCAA Media Day, where the most prominent broadcasters and analysts congregated to discuss this year's NCAA Tournament selection.
Grant Hill has had little trouble sifting teams and pinning down his Final Four in the past few years. This year, however, the upset-laden regular season and conference tournaments prevented him from putting on a prophetic hat at the Turner-CBS NCAA Media Day on Tuesday in New York City.
"I really don’t know," Hill said when asked to make his bet before bracket comes out. "I will say this - Warren Buffett will redo his challenge. I think his billion dollars is good. It’s going to be that crazy."
This year, top ranked college basketball teams have been upset more than they had in 67 years. Underdogs then continue their buzz in the post-season and dance over the body of No.1-seeded schools. Among the first 13 conference tournaments that have completed, only one top seed, Chattanooga of the Southern Conference, has claimed the crown. The hard life took off from there. The UConn Huskies shocked the top-seeded Temple Owls. (By the way, when Jalen Adams happened, they were also the underdog against the Cincinnati Bearcats.) The Seton Hall Pirates dethroned the Villanova Wildcats in the Big East Finals. And the CSU Bakersfield Roadrunners punched their first ever NCAA ticket and ended the WAC Dynasty of the New Mexico State Aggies...
The Power Five conferences have mostly shunned the curse but the Michigan Wolverines reminded people that upset-free utopia did not exist by sending the Indiana Hoosiers home with a last second 3 on what was hardly a neutral court.
With underdogs sending strong message, the March Madness seems to be a stage for the Cinderellas.
"This year, with all the change, the losses and the upsets, no one has sort of established themselves as THE TEAM," Hill said. "I actually think there are more teams that feel like they have a more realistic chance of winning.
"So much of it is belief."
Both Hill and Wally Szczerbiak see more parity in this year’s college basketball landscape, where last year's Kentucky-like dominance no longer exists. A weaker freshman class can’t singlehandedly determine the outcomes.
"This year Ben Simmons is the best player without a doubt, but LSU may not make the tournament," Hill said.
Teams have struggled to win on the road. "The home court dominance is big because you got the tendency to feed up the crowd," Szczerbiak said. "You got a few more calls and play with more energy. That’s one thing that led to a lot of the upsets, and we are going to see more of that on the neutral courts because you never know what you are going to get from the individual guys on the daily basis."
The upsets present more than just thrilling or heartbreaking moments. Because of the nature of the mid-range conferences, the future of the regular season champions in the mid-majors becomes a lot grimmer compared to Power Five teams once they lose in the tournaments. If they haven’t made enough splash during their non-conference schedule, or haven’t squeaked out decent wins on the road or against ranked teams, they may just end up being on the wrong side of the bubble.
Don’t think they are the only ones going through mental torture before Selection Sunday. All the upsets make it a headache for the committee members to finalize the Big Dancers.
"They got a tough job, boy." Szczerbiak said. "They have a really tough job. They are very good at it. They make the right decision almost 100 percent of the time, but it’s definitely not easy."
Unlike Hill, Szczerbiak made his own prediction: He named Michigan State, Kentucky and Kansas as three of his Final Four. He also expected Oregon and Arizona to make a deep run, but he is prepared to see his own bracket got burnt.
"There’s going to be some teams that shock us and [teams] that nobody thinks can make the Final Four going to make it," he said before giving a shout out to VCU for its magical 2011 Final Four run.
After the committee unveils the bracket, it’s time to crack the code of Buffett’s revamped March Madness pool. But just because Buffett has already lowered the threshold to the prize does not mean the Madness will cool down the upset fever. What has transpired in the last couple of months may just be glimpses into what will unfold. So, since the statistics and numbers will serve no big indications, flipping coins this time may really have better chance to do the trick.
"I am excited to see it pan out and I would hope it doesn’t just stay to the chart," Szczerbiak said.